Who and Where Is Jesus?

By Amy Peeler

I’d like us to consider two questions this morning: “Jesus, who are you?” and “Jesus, where are you?” Let’s begin with the “who.”

Jesus’ statement that he is the way, the truth, and the life is one of those very well-known biblical phrases that succumbs easily to the temptation of abstraction. It can become a free-floating proof text that can mean anything or nothing. Without context, we might wonder: He is the way to what? Who gets to define truth? and What kind of life is he speaking of?

Thankfully, Jesus does not leave us to our own devices. Throughout his teaching recorded in this gospel, he has carefully rooted each term — way, truth, and life — in the triune God.

Jesus, who are you?

Jesus is the way to the Father. That is why Jesus mentions this term first: he is responding to Thomas’ desperate statement in verse 5: “Jesus, we don’t know the way.” Jesus assures him, I am the way, not just for the sake of a nice trip, but as you walk with me I am taking you somewhere. I am taking you to someone. I am the way to God the Father.

John the Baptist lets us know this will be true right at the beginning of the gospel, when he says of himself, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

Who is the Lord for whom he is preparing the way? Well, Jesus, because he then shows up on the scene, but this text is from Isaiah, when the prophet looks forward to God’s return to the people after the time of exile. As Jesus will say, the Father and the Son are one; they are both the Lord.

Because God has come in Jesus, now people can follow Jesus to God.

It’s similar with truth. We live in a time in which all people search for their own truth, but relativism isn’t just a postmodern struggle. Pontius Pilate voices the confusion at the end of this gospel when he desperately asks Jesus, “What is truth?”

Truth is God’s. Throughout the gospel, Jesus has already said that truth is God the Father’s.

Chapter 1 — Jesus’ glory, the glory of the father’s only son, is full of grace and truth.

Chapter 4 — To worship the Father is to worship in spirit and truth.

Chapter 8 — Those who lie about Jesus cannot have God as a father because God is the father of truth.

Jesus says in chapter 17 that God’s word is truth.

And then after this statement of Jesus in John 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the life,” Jesus joins truth with the work of the Spirit.

Chapters 14-16 — The Spirit Jesus will send to them is the Spirit of truth, summed up well with this statement: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).

Finally, life: it is God’s desire to give life to those who accept his Son, and only an eternal God could give eternal life.

“For just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26).

John talks about abundant life, and resurrection life, the source of which is only the triune God.

“And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

I doubt this is new information, but it is a good reminder. Jesus as the way, truth, and life is defined in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So, when Philip begs, “Show us the Father,” Jesus says as plainly as possible: Philip, if you feel that you haven’t seen the Father, then despite having been with me for almost three years, you don’t really know me. Because when you really see me for who I am, you see the Father.

This is the radical and radically good news of the Christian faith. There is no God behind God. What you see in Jesus is what you get in God the Father. There is certainly more to God than our finite and fallen minds can take in. We can’t ever master God, but he is not different than what — who — is revealed in Jesus Christ. Jesus confirms and fulfills what God began revealing in the election and grace to Israel and creation from the beginning. God is life-giving because he is life. God is truth-telling because he is truth. All the promises to Israel are summed up in Jesus, who is the way to experience the life and truth of God the Father.

But he left. That is a big reason for the troubled hearts of the disciples in this passage: he has told them it is about time for him to go.

Whereas Philip does not seem to know the way to follow, Peter is raring to go along. Listen to the conversation at the end of Chapter 13:

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.”

Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you” (John 13:37).

Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times” (John 13:38).

And the very next verse is John 14:1, where Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled.” Some are troubled because he is leaving, and they don’t know where to follow. Some are troubled because they want to follow, but Jesus says they won’t. Jesus says it again near the end of this chapter: “Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (v. 27).

The disciples had their own reasons for dis-ease, and it is helpful to think through those, but is this not one of those verses that seems to leap off the page?

I imagine it would be a safe bet to say most of us are troubled right now, either for ourselves or our friends — stress of school or lack thereof, sickness or fear of it, loss of jobs or the prospect of it — or for our incredibly broken nation and world.

The disciples might feel like saying, “Jesus where are you going?” We want to cry out, “Hey, Jesus, where are you?”

His answer, gentle with our broken hearts, yet firm in its assurance, would be this: “With my Father. At the right hand of God.”

My sense is that many Christians get the good news of the death of Jesus. He died for my sins. We also usually know the complement of that good news is the resurrection. Jesus defeated death by rising from the grave. But I know I’ve needed to be reminded of the good news of the ascension. Jesus did not remain here, but took his seat as God’s sovereign King and as our reigning High Priest at the right hand of God. Listen for this language in the Eucharistic Prayer.

In this final speech in John, Jesus tells us one of the reasons why his departure, his leaving, is very good news.

“Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (16:7).

Because the Son of God took on flesh, he took on the limitations of a body. In his body he cannot be everywhere at once, but because he is at the right hand of God, he sent the Holy Spirit, God the Father’s Spirit, to us all, to be with us everywhere at all times.

You might be familiar with the popular Christian song by Matthew West, “Do Something.” Listen to a bit of the lyrics:

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now, thought
How’d we ever get so far down, and
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, yeah, I created you” (now listen)

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something, yeah
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
Oh, it’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

The answer to the question “Hey, Jesus, where are you?” is the ascension, and therefore, by the power of the sent Spirit, is also: “Right there with you.”

Have you ever wondered about Jesus’ statement in verse 12: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these”?

I don’t really count myself adequate to do the works that Jesus did. How could I teach, heal, and love like the Son of God? It is right for him to have pride of place to be Lord, for him to increase and me to decrease, but if I automatically assume I could never do things like Jesus, I discount the power of the Spirit he’s given and disregard his word right here. I believe in him and so he says I will do the works he did.

But how could my works be greater? I think it is simple math.

He says, you will do greater works than these because I am going to the Father. His disciples and I had more time to do more good than he did. Almost all of us have been on earth longer than the three years Jesus was in ministry.

But it is not just addition, the length of time. It is also multiplication, the number of people.

In the next section, Jesus switches to a plural address, “You all,” when he promises the coming of the Spirit. We can do greater works because there are many of us, all members of the body of Christ.

As we come together and ask him, as he tells us in this passage to do, we can spread out and bring glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit in multiple places for a long time.

That truth of multiplicity begins here, because there is another way the body of Christ is in more than one place at one time. He resides in power and advocacy at the right hand of the Father, but he has said about the bread and wine we graciously receive each week: this is my body, this is my blood. In the mystery of this simple but life-changing, even world-changing meal, we are renewed by him.

Jesus, who are you? The way to the Father, the truth of the father, the life of the Father.

Jesus, where are you? At the right hand of the Father whom I revealed to you. With you in this meal of grace and renewal. In you by the power of the Spirit we sent to you

How do we put these truths into practice? Receive him, his life, and rest today for it is Sabbath. Let the grace of this day feed you.

And tomorrow ask Jesus to do his works.

You can be the body of Christ this week, and you have the power of God’s Spirit to be that! Let us go forth in the name of Christ to love and serve others by loving and serving our risen and ascended Lord.

The Rev. Dr. Amy Peeler is associate rector of St. Mark’s, Geneva, Illinois, and associate professor of New Testament at Wheaton College.


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